Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rhode Island Begins Researching Lega;ized Marijuana Funds

State panel to begin research on legalized marijuana funds

01:00 AM EST on Monday, November 16, 2009

By Katie Mulvaney
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — The commission charged with exploring how much money
the state could reap if it legalizes marijuana and taxes its sales will
meet for the first time Wednesday.

Lawmakers voted to create the nine-member panel in July, the day before
the General Assembly began its summer recess. Its first meeting is
slated for 3:30 p.m. in Room 212 of the State House.

The group intends to study issues surrounding the state's position
on marijuana, including money the state might make if it legalized it
and enacted a $35 "sin tax" for purchases of an ounce or more.

Other topics to be explored are the effects and costs of Rhode
Island's prohibition of the drug, except to sick people; whether
adult use has increased since it was banned in 1918; whether its sales
are financing drug cartels and fomenting violence; and its current
availability to young people. The group will also look at how states and
countries that have decriminalized the drug have fared.

One of the first subjects the panel will examine is Massachusetts'
experience since voters there overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure
in November 2008 that decriminalized possessing small amounts of
marijuana. People caught with less than an ounce face a $100 civil fine,
but not criminal charges.

The group will gauge the effectiveness of that state's policy and
its impact on law enforcement and prison resources, said Sen. Joshua
Miller, D-Cranston, one of five sponsors of the bill that created the

The panel also hopes to assess how marijuana use compares with alcohol,
in terms of costs to society, he said. Miller, a restaurant and bar
owner, has said he does not use illegal drugs and rarely drinks alcohol.

The state's stance on marijuana has evolved in recent years. The
General Assembly gave final passage to a law in 2006 allows patients
with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, HIV and multiple
sclerosis, to possess up to 12 marijuana plants or the equivalent of 2.5
ounces of marijuana at any one time.

In May, legislators overwhelmingly passed a bill that allowed
state-regulated marijuana dispensaries, known as compassion centers, so
patients wouldn't be forced to grow or buy marijuana on the street.

However, a bill that would have decriminalized marijuana possession in
Rhode Island by imposing a civil fine on anyone caught with an ounce or
less failed. Submitted by Leo R. Blais, R-Coventry, another sponsor of
creating the study commission, never made it out of the Senate Judiciary

Miller will be joined on the commission by: Glenn C. Loury, an economics
professor at Brown University; Nick Horton, of OPENDOORS, formerly the
Rhode Island Family Life Center; Donna Ploicastro, executive director of
the Rhode Island Nurses Association; Dr. David C. Lewis, of Brown's
Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies; and Jeffrey Alan Miron, who
teaches economics at Harvard University.

It was unclear Sunday who the other three members are, but the group is
supposed to include local police as well as advocates or patients of the
state's medical-marijuana program.

The commission will meet at least three times before it is due to submit
a report on Jan. 31, Miller said.

kmulvane@projo. com

http://www.projo. com/news/ content/MARIJUAN A_MEETING_ 11-16-09_ 4BGFB3A_v6. \

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